Tomato Purée vs. Paste: What's the Difference?

Both tomato puree and tomato paste are culinary staples, but they are two different products.

a collage of tomato puree in a bowl and tomato paste coming from a tube
Photo: Getty Images

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between tomato paste and tomato puree? Can they be used interchangeably? Read on to find out how they are made and whether you can use one instead of the other when whipping up your favorite dishes.

What is tomato puree?

Tomato puree is a canned product made from fresh, ripe tomatoes that are cooked, then blended into a thick liquid just slightly thicker than a typical tomato sauce. However, unlike tomato sauce which can be chunky, tomato puree is smooth and uniform. An acid (like lemon juice) and salt is usually added giving tomato puree a bright flavor. It comes in cans ranging from about 15 to 28 ounces.

How to use tomato puree

Tomato puree is commonly used as the base for sauces (think marinara) that pair with pasta and pizzas. It can also be used as a base for salsa and hot sauce. You can add tomato puree to demi-glace, a brown sauce that uses beef or veal stock, brown roux and tomatoes—commonly used in French cuisine, to add acidity and brightness.

What is tomato paste?

Tomato paste is a concentrated form of cooked tomatoes, where tomatoes are cooked, strained and recooked until most of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes reach a thick, pasty texture similar to toothpaste. Because tomato paste is cooked for a longer period of time, it has a deep red hue and sweet flavor thanks to the natural sugars present in the tomatoes. Like tomato puree, store-bought tomato paste may contain added acid and salt. Tomato paste typically comes in small 6 ounce cans or in a tube that is easy to recap for repeated use.

How to use tomato paste

Tomato paste adds sweet and umami flavors to anything from taco fillings to Slow-Cooker Baked Beans. Paste is also a great for thickening tomato-based soups, such as our Creamy Tomato Soup with Tortellini, stews and sauces like our No-Peel Slow Cooker Mariana Sauce. A small amount of paste boosts flavors and adds sweet and savory notes to dishes like meatloaf and meatballs and chili. Just remember, because it is concentrated, a small amount goes a long way to give your favorite dish a tomato punch.

Can I use tomato paste and tomato puree interchangeably?

While tomato puree and tomato paste are both made from tomatoes, they differ in their consistencies, water content, flavors and preparation methods resulting in two different products. If you ever run out of one of these tomato staples yet your recipe asks for the other, don't dash out to the grocery store just yet. You can substitute one for the other by making some adjustments.

How to substitute paste for puree

Say your recipe asks for puree and you only have tomato paste. You can thin out tomato paste by adding equal parts liquid (such as plain water or broth) to paste and whisking the two together until you get a thinner product. If it's hard to combine the two, gentle heat on the stove top can help blend them together.

How to substitute puree for paste

Similarly, if your recipe asks for tomato paste but all you have is tomato puree, heat a small amount of cooking oil in a pan or pot on medium heat, add the puree and cook it until it reaches the desired paste-like consistency. Because of the natural sugars involved, you will want to stir the puree frequently to prevent it from sticking to the pan.

Bottom line

Both tomato puree and tomato paste are essential ingredients but differ in how they are made and used. Tomato puree is a blended form of tomatoes offering a milder taste resembling fresh tomatoes, while tomato paste is concentrated tomatoes with a sweeter and richer flavor. Substituting one for the other in your recipes is easy—simmer tomato puree to lower its water content to make a tomato paste, and add water or broth to it to make a puree.

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